Plato for president!

The invocation of Plato in any article about Donald Trump might seem misplaced to most readers. How does one of the most brilliant philosophers of all times relate to an unqualified, opportunistic US presidential candidate? What can Plato possibly say about the current mess of American politics? Are we really so desperate that we have to fall back on philosophy? However odd, part of the public debate has turned to the ancient Greek philosopher in order to explain the unanticipated popularity of Trump – and with it the rise of populism in Europe and the US. Democracy may eventually lead to tyranny, as Plato argues, but it is even more interesting to see how he would prevent this process in the first place.

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Why we travel

Traveling: one of the most ubiquitous activities in our lives. We book a flight to Thailand with a few clicks on a website, or jump on a train heading for Eastern Europe that leaves three times a day. Quite naturally, we know where we want to go and how to get there. Yet we rarely ask ourselves why we want to go to a particular place – or why we should go at all. This seems a fitting question for a time when our Facebook timelines (mine included) are filled with photos of beaches, mountains, and smiling faces: what is it that motivates us to travel?

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Time to take populism seriously

Even if you wanted to, it seems you cannot get around the whole ‘Brexit’ affair. So much has been said and written about it that I felt reluctant to do so myself. We all know – one way or another – about the mess that the referendum left behind. Its aftermath has been, in one word, shocking. Though when hearing and reading about all the different reactions, one important perspective is often overlooked: the EU is undoubtably beneficial – but for whom? If it wants to prevent more member states from leaving, then politicians and policy makers need to take this question more seriously.

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Riding the Chinese wave

Only two weeks left, then I’m done. Done with my research master’s thesis, that is. This prospect forces me to think about what I want to do after graduation (officially due in September). For the past three months I’ve been busy with a couple of job applications, so far without success. This week I expanded my search to include a personal passion: China. As many of you know, I have lived and studied in China for quite some time. Working in China, then, sounds very appealing. To actually consider this path, though, I must first know what I find so interesting about the place. This is what I will try to specify here.

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Help, I’m having my quarter-life crisis! Or am I?

Yesterday evening I hosted a colloquium about the quarter-life crisis. The initiative was generated via the Soul Start-Up, a platform I’ve been setting up with a couple of friends for the past year. The aim of the evening was to talk about the quarter-life crisis and how it manifests itself, personally. During the many interesting discussions, two things became clear for me: first, your intrinsic motivation – or volition as I like to call it – largely depends on what you can do for others; and second, to better cope with a negative response from others and other kinds of disappointments we need to develop some kind of mental defensibility.

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Economic pluralism: less conversation, more action

This afternoon I joined a debate organized by Room for Discussion at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). The topic was ‘rethinking economics: the future of our economic schooling’. Since the outbreak of the 2008 financial crisis, a bunch of academics have been calling for a revision of the way economics is currently taught at universities. They argue economic curricula should reflect the idea of pluralism: the teaching of a broad range of different schools of thought – alongside the Neoclassical school that has been dominant for the past decades. This plea is clearly admirable but too often falls on deaf ears. If economics is ever to embrace pluralism, its students should do so first.

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What happened to noblesse oblige?

If you look around at universities, you are supposed to see the future elite. Even in the Netherlands, where there are currently over 250.000 enrolled bachelor- and master students, the image of students belonging to a relatively wealthy and talented class in society still prevails. Do I see myself as part of the elite? I don’t know. And to be honest, given the fact that the concept of ‘elite’ has become something of a swear word during the past few years, I’m not sure whether I want to consider myself elitist.

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